A campier beginning could not be conceived for this album of horror music than the one Telarc cooked up for Erich Kunzel & the Cincinnati Pops -- an opening sequence of thunder and frightened running in ear-splitting digital sound, followed by the hilarious haunted-house blast of an organ from The Phantom of the Opera. Yes, this is your worst nightmare come true, a symphonic Halloween album -- complete with sound effects -- that was evidently successful enough to spawn an SACD sequel, Scary Music, in 2002. In true "pops" concert fashion, Kunzel opens with classical selections with horror-related stories and eventually moves on to filmland for the rest of the package. Alas, Kunzel's relaxed way with the classics here isn't exactly calculated to raise the dead from their graves. Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" is a bit tame, made more palatable by the excellent sound; Berlioz's "March to the Scaffold" from Symphonie Fantastique is downright sluggish. "Pandemonium" from Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust (an imaginative choice) and Saint-Saëns' "Danse Macabre" are sturdier, though still too laid-back. Only Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" delivers sufficient energy. Many of the film cues, particularly those by the classic Hollywood composers, are more compellingly presented and surprisingly potent in musical interest, like the short reconstructed suite from Franz Waxman's The Bride of Frankenstein that ends up in the air. In "Sleigh Ride" from The Devil and Daniel Webster, Bernard Herrmann does inventive things with a fiddle tune that Copland famously used in "Rodeo," and his music for Psycho has already earned lots of respect in many circles (watch out for the over-the-top sound effects in the notorious shower scene!). Even though the classical numbers could use more pep, it's an engaging idea for an album, executed with dignity and some cunning.
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AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell